Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Western Political Science Association annual meeting


Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Publication Date



Political Science and International Studies


With the proliferation of primary elections, party conventions began to ratify the choice of nominee typically already long decided. Conventions, however, still provide a forum to highlight and promote the parties' respective nominees. Above all, the convention offers a chance to convince (or, at least begin convincing) the general electorate that it should cast a ballot for the party’s nominee. A candidate’s nomination speech signals the launch of the general election campaign and provides each party’s nominee with a significant rhetorical opportunity. Up to this point in the presidential contest, primarily partisans have been engaged, the general electorate has not. From these speeches, the public can gauge what kind of a president the nominee might be.

We examine the nature of the rhetoric used in nomination acceptance speeches given by Democratic and Republican presidential nominees since 1960. During the time period under study, much changed in the electoral landscape. For example, the general electorate became less partisan, religious voters began to exert their influence in presidential politics, and presidential campaigns became much more candidate centered. What effects, if any, did these changes have on the rhetoric nominees used during this time period? As presidential campaigns became more candidate centered, did nominees begin including more biographical narrative? With the rise of the religious right, did candidates include more religious rhetoric? As the general electorate became less partisan, did candidates seek to rally the partisan troops, or appeal to bipartisanship? These questions will be explored using content analysis of nomination acceptance speeches that codes for biographical rhetoric, credit claiming, religious rhetoric and symbolism, and partisan appeals. As the electorate changed, how responsive did candidates prove to be to large-scale changes? Did candidates adjust their rhetoric? Our results indicate that in some instances, candidates were very adaptive, but in other areas, the changes we expected to see reflected in candidates’ rhetoric did not appear.


Prepared for presentation at the Western Political Science Association annual meeting, March 19-21, 2009, Vancouver, BC, Canada.